RTT – The Challenges and Opportunities Singapore’s Competitive Talent Attraction Market Offer

RTT – The Challenges and Opportunities Singapore’s Competitive Talent Attraction Market Offer

These are the thoughts and takeaways from the inaugural Singapore Resourcing Think Tank (RTT) held on Tuesday 4th September 2012 hosted by Standard Chartered, titled ‘The Challenges and Opportunities Singapore’s Competitive Talent Attraction Market Offer’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and Resourcing professionals from leading Singaporean and other international businesses.  Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

For more information on the group, or to discuss membership, please contact Jeremy on +44 207 88 444 | Jeremy.thornton@oasishr.com

It goes without saying, everyone is suffering from a shortage of great talent, especially in some of the fastest growing emerging territories.   No sectors seem to be immune from this and no one has found the illusive silver bullet.

The Think Tank’s Conclusions: 

Utilise market mapping

Identify and map potential talent across a specialism at the requisite level as well as up and coming talent two or three levels down.  This enables you to create a picture and transparency of what the talent pool looks like which can be shared with the business.

The best market mapping businesses don’t actually sit in the country that they are mapping – there is some great expertise in India for example.

If you are looking to build this capability internally as an integral part of the resourcing function, then ex search and selection professionals are best for this. A word of warning; you have to invest time and effort to teach ex search professionals how to navigate themselves within a multinational business.  They are not the finished article but have fantastic raw talent.

One mistake people have experienced is market mapping companies by just scraping the internet and not actually qualifying people the good old fashioned way; on the phone.  Many supply names from old out of date online databases.  Ask for an example of their work and testimonials.

What the experts say:

a) Moving forward, keep the maps as your database

b) Have a communication plan in place to keep them alive and updated

c) Make sure when a passive candidate becomes active they think about your business

d) A recommended market mapping company in India is IMS – contact their MD for more information: Amit Somaiya asomaiya@imspeople.com

Engage with the wider business population:

Once you have the market map talk to the hiring managers and business about who potentially could be good.  Then encourage them to start to take some responsibility to solve the problem.  Educate them about the advantages of referring great talent they know or people they have met at conferences and events, empower them to become an extension of the team.   Create a set of champions, some people will really enjoy doing this.

Referrals especially in small incestuous markets can be incredible powerful.  Incentivise line managers and specialists to find these people, build their communication strategy around it. Every employee has to become a recruiter / talent spotter and this message needs to come from the top, from the CEO.

What the experts say:

a) This is not easy to achieve, it requires a cultural shift within the business, something that cannot be achieved overnight.

Reposition the responsibility

It is easy for the business to blame and drop all the responsibility for the success of the business on engaging capable talent.  Get the business onside; explain to them that if the talent is not there than the business cannot blame recruitment for its success, another growth strategy is required.

Sometimes businesses need to take a longer term view and look at growing their own talent. Consider areas you can cross pollinate skills from.  Use job shadowing and restructuring of roles to begin to look at options above and beyond the obvious ones.

Be willing to play the long game:

You have to invest time and money in understanding new territories.  Accept that a different approach is needed to resourcing in the developed markets and that you have to invest in having a presence in the country.   The behaviours and expectations of the local communities and businesses hugely vary often giving local employers the upper hand in the war for talent.  You need to engage candidates at a cultural and national level, not regionally.

On the flip side, if you have sophisticated employer brand in the developed markets and you can successfully adapt this, it can give you tremendous competitive advantage compared to local employers.

One size does not fit all:

One mistake businesses make is to rely on ‘great’ regional deals with suppliers, often suppliers who are strong in Singapore for example don’t have a real presence in many of the emerging markets and this is something that they are not always happy to divulge. You need to be willing to engage and invest time to work with smaller local suppliers.

The mistake internal functions often make is similar to these suppliers, they expect a recruiter in Singapore, for example, to have all the answers.   Sometimes you have to play the long game and swallow the cost.  One method successfully used was placing a couple of experienced recruiters in the territory for sixth months to begin to map out and understand the market.   It takes time, costs a lot but if you want that quality end product you need to make the investment.  Another cheaper and successful approach along similar lines is to place a couple of very bright fresh graduates into a new territory to scope things out.

Look inwardly; you might be looking for something you already have:

There is a myth amongst many hiring managers in Singapore that the grass is greener externally for great talent, this is however often not the case.  Quite often you have fantastic up and coming internal talent that is looking for its next move.  If you don’t offer this opportunity the head-hunters will!

Some larger multinational organisations now have talent functions with the remit to proactively identify and source fantastic internal talent.  Rather than wait for people to stick their hand up and ask, they are proactively approached.  This can identify and free up great talent that some managers try and hide, all too often they don’t want to loose their superstars so block moves that ultimately stifle progression.

Navigating the legalities:

It is a minefield out there when it comes to trying to understand the intricacies and legalities of approaching talent directly as a corporate organisation across such a diverse region.

Do you need to distance yourself by using a third party or is it acceptable to directly approach talent?

Whilst it is clear in some countries with Japan sitting at one end of the spectrum with clear legislation in place, in other countries it is a lot less clear.   The general consensus was that from an overriding legal perspective there are no real rules in place covering the region as an entirety, what there does seem to be is a lot of anecdotal methodology that has become dialled into the industry.  This is something the resourcing leadership team need to be aware of however this executive summary is not the place to outline the findings on this more sensitive issue…..

Educate your line managers to reduce attrition:

All too often organisations hire in haste, oversell the opportunities, don’t really know what they are really looking for and then when they do hire, they don’t do a great job onboarding and engaging new talent into their business.

Success has been achieved by resourcing functions working with the wider talent community to address these issues. The solution is a wider cultural shift, something that is hard to achieve.  It involves educating the line managers through line manager engagement meetings to get their buy-in so they invest the time and energy into the hiring process – convincing them to give you there time is the biggest challenge.

You need a road-map to help inform recruitment in order  to aid advert development and identify the sourcing strategy, how the interviews should be conducted and which people should be  involved in them.

What the experts say:

a) Pinch time by piggy backing off any other meetings you can to get in front of your hiring managers i.e. talent management, appraisals etc.

Cost per hire, time to fill:

How can you slow down time to fill expectations to increase the quality of hire?  If the business wants to reduce agency spend, are they willing to increase time to hire?  What is the optimum cost (agency spend) vs. time to hire?

What the experts say:

a) Give the budget back to the hiring managers and get them to control their own budget, but allow resourcing to retain control of who they can spend it with.  You need to have senior stakeholders backing to change this process and the drive the right mind-set.  The managers have to agree to reduce their spend by spending it more wisely.

Change recruiters from subservient order takers to true business partners:

We need to start to have more strategic conversations with the business.  Resourcing has evolved but there is still along way to go, we are still not working in a true strategic way.  Cost per hire, time to hire is important but we should be talking about return on investment, matching capacity to capability.  How do we have a capacity resourcing strategy that matches capabilities and capacity?  The problem faced is when ‘home-grown’ talent is headhunted out of your business.  Do you grow again?  It needs to be a forward thinking approach, we need talent in resourcing who can take the conversation to the next stage.

Do people hire with a ‘runway’ in mind or ‘just in time’? Does everyone need a runway?

How can Talent Acquisition help organisations achieve a more diverse population?

Be aware and willing to invest in a significant lead in period for talent so you can hire at more junior levels and then coach and develop them up into senior roles.  This may take a year or two to achieve.

It has to be the Head of Resourcing’s number one priority to drive this initiative forward.  If the businesses C level leadership team do not see it as a big enough issue to say “we’re not making that hire unless we have a diverse shortlist” then it simply will not happen.

If no where else in the business cares then why should that leader care?  It’s a major mind-set / cultural change that is needed and it has to be driven by the CEO.  In organisations where this is happening, it is making a real credible change to the business. The talent is out there, it is about how patient you’re willing to be and if you’re prepared to mandate it as a priority. You need to be proactive to encourage a pipeline of talent i.e. Women in Leadership Programmes.

The business as a whole has to take responsibility, it is very easy for the problem just to be bundled up and given to the resourcing function.  There is a lot a resourcing function can do on its front foot rather than wait for the business to ask.

Who is in the pipeline for business critical roles and who are the successors?  If the depth and diversity of a leader’s succession plan is linked to their performance then you will see changes.  This needs to be driven from the top and be linked to their remuneration. Do you just hire the best man or women for the job?  Without employment equality law in place, regionally it is down to organisations, not governments to embrace and drive it forward.

What the experts say:

a) Alternative strategies can be used by the talent acquisition teams to fill the gaps i.e. older, female, nationalities, job shares etc.  Figure out how your diversity and inclusion strategy becomes the solution

b) Set up a diversity and inclusion council in each territory to increase awareness in each market place

c) Engage with a diversity consultancy to help. Clear Kit – tool kit to answer the awkward question your business needs to know to increase access to candidates with a disability. http://www.clearkit.co.uk/

Don’t forget about your internal talent.

Can your acquisition teams proactively approach internal top talent or does your business rely on them to reactively apply for roles and opportunities?  Do your internal managers block this movement of talent?

Yes we are seeing this begin to happen within certain areas of businesses.  It needs a framework in place.  For example people need to clearly know when they have to make their line manages aware if they are looking to move i.e. at second interview stage.

Cross function mobility is still very low, some companies are overcoming this by having their top talent ‘ring fenced’ so that it is deployed centrally for the good of the business as a whole, not siloed functionally or geographically.

What the experts say:

a) Use technology to get people to map out their mobility, career aspirations, past experience and key achievements and map theses to your succession plans etc.  This needs to be done in partnership between resourcing and the wider HR population.

b) If you don’t offer them opportunities the head hunters will…..

Does anyone love their Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?

What do you want from your ATS?  It seems to be very different to what it was ten years ago.  There is a trend, which is seeing internal resourcing functions move towards the types of systems agencies have traditionally used.  The resourcing teams need to see the value of the system, it needs to act as an enabler, rather than a hindrance.

A lot of the traditional legacy systems are good at reacquisition tracking but poor at applicant tracking.  You need to invest time in what you want the system to do.  Look at your processes at a granular level so that it helps and benefits its users.

What the experts say:

a) Within the CRM world there is a move away from the legacy systems and towards two development platforms: Sales Force and Microsoft Dynamics.  These platforms offer massive scalability, modularisation and optimisation and do not require specialist skills to develop them, unlike many of the older systems.

Centralised or de-centralisation recruitment functions, the pros and cons:

In certain cultures employees need to be physically present, but in others you can work remotely.  In emerging markets you need someone on the ground. You need the face to face interface.  Recruitment is emotional and not always logical, especially when presenting this to the hiring managers.  Can this be broken down to where you need influence?

If you need permissions to add interviews into a diary that you don’t have it can break down the whole process. You need a mature infrastructure to support these functions which requires an incredible amount of thought and process or the efficiencies of having something centralised can be lost. Many companies have a highbred model; resourcing teams locally but centrally managed by someone with a global perspective.  They can then look at tasks that are being replicated and begin to pull these together into a centralised hub to save costs.

People on the ground understand culture, regulations, populations and their local partners.  Without the high touch face to face connection it is not personal.  If resourcing is going to be at the forefront then you need this high touch personal interface.

What the experts say:

a) Front load your function with Resourcing Partners so that they can really understand what the business needs and wants from the function.  They need to listen to the customer and then use this to drive the behaviours of the function.  If you have the relationships in pace this gives you the building blocks to develop the relationships to the next level.


  • Great to meet new people from different sectors, backgrounds and industry and help to answer their questions
  • Effective to spend quality time discussing challenges and confirming thoughts with market peers
  • Great people share similar views and challenges
  • Heartened to hear that the challenges more traditional businesses are facing are the same as some of the new breed high tech one
  • Various similar issues between Asia and Europe
  • Good to start a continuous relationship giving access to the combined knowledge and resource in the room to tap into moving forward when facing challenges
  • Need to persist with the market mapping and the IT platforms
  • You pay a lot of money to go to some all day events but often don’t get as much value as you got out of the room today
  • Reassuring to hear everyone shares the same challenges
  • Great to discuss real issues and challenges with like minded people
  • It is nice to sit with likeminded people without fearing the consequences of what is said, something you cant always do internally
  • Offers a platform to be open minded and help others with their challenges
  • Really refreshing to hear from people from a diverse range of backgrounds talking about the same things in slightly different ways.
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